In praise of Mumbai’s shetty joints

The phrase ‘safe space’ has been overused and misused to the point of being trivialized to denote any easy, welcoming or comfortable environment. So I’m hesitant to use it here, but it really is an appropriate phrase to describe the small bars and spaces that many urban working women of previous decades made their own for quietly relaxing with colleagues after the end of a shift.

These little bars, generically referred to as ‘Shetty-joints’, have been in business for decades. They were nothing like today’s hot spots with discount ‘Ladies Night’ and karaoke events. There were certainly no bouncers or temporary tattoos stamped on his hand at the entrance. There was no high-octane laughter or excessive dress, the signature of many self-aware party zones these days.

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The soundscape of these venues used to be the buzz of people just relaxing after a day at work, before going home and taking care of assistant chores. None were staying in large hotels. For the most part, they were located in and around business districts or in the centers of local markets in the suburbs. Women in groups of two or four could sit down and order a basic drink (not cocktails with fancy names) without drawing unwanted attention. In the 1980s, women like me, particularly in Mumbai, were redefining where it was okay to go without a man present for a drink and a meal. Some of the male owners, managers, and clientele of these places were indeed our unspoken allies in the process.

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In most of these ‘Shetty quarters’, the food is ‘south-ish’ as ​​one person describes it, with the obligatory North Indian, Chinese and Italian included. Gokul behind Regal Cinema in Mumbai remains one of those low-key risks. hole. Boiled salted peanuts and chick peas appeared as soon as you sat down, and still do.

Some have been transformed into exclusive venues, but “many still exist as they are, holding it all together, including transporting their staff during recent lockdowns. One of the pleasures of opening things is sliding into your favorite seat and looking at a reticent but familiar face, and quietly remarking: ‘It’s ok Han, surviving,’” says Sonali Teredesai, who works at a stock brokerage firm and regularly attends Symphony in the Range Hills area of ​​Pune.

“During the weekly meetings of our queer feminist collective between 2006 and 2013, some of us inevitably ended up in our oasis away from home, Two Star in Kalina Market,” recalls Iravi, a film professional and copy editor who knows only a Name. “The unassuming dive bar’s primarily cis male clientele had learned not to watch or comment because the management clearly had our backs. You felt benignly watched. Two Star briefly made us forget about houses where no one was waiting with dinner. It was conveniently located across from a row of street vendors so you could quickly get your sabji-phall and be back before the frost on your glass evaporated. It stayed open until 2 am,” says Iravi.

Bureaucrat and illustrator Geetali Tare recalls another place to leave him alone during her years in Shimla in the previous decade: “The embassy restaurant in Shimla was the place where my broken heart and I would hide when we wanted to avoid amorous attention, but sometimes annoying. of friends. It was the kind of place that allowed you to be pensive, nostalgic or just reflective. The owner knew when to leave you alone. His wife placidly crocheted doilies at the cash desk. The clientele were firmly minding their own business.”

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Shivanjali in Pune used to be seen as a ‘neighborhood neighborhood’ for a long time, but has been renovated into a more ‘family oriented’ location over the last couple of years. It remains a good example of a safe place for women to enjoy a pint and not only be left alone but also treated with respectful warmth. As manager Aravind Shetty says: “All people who drink are not riffraff, and all riffraff are not welcome just because it’s a bar.”

Gouri Dange is a counselor, novelist, and observer of people and animals.

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